First things first: hopefully there’s no eruption that will sweep our recreated menu under all the lava, right? All jokes aside, recreating something would be difficult if we don’t even know what we’re actually going to recreate, right? Thankfully, archaeologists at the Archaeological Park of Pompeii have found some information from excavating an ancient food shop, called a thermopolium, located at the western edge of the unexcavated northeastern section of Pompeii. Atlas Obscura has more details:
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To recreate a meal that comes close to what may have been served here, one can begin by looking at the archaeological remains found inside. This includes the imagery in the frescoes painted on the service counter and the contents of the amphorae and the dolia. One dolium contained the bones of duck, swine, goat, and fish, as well as shells from land snails. The duck bones in particular correspond to the fresco of two mallards painted on the front of the counter, perhaps as a pictorial menu for the illiterate majority at the time. While some scholars have proposed that these faunal remains may imply that first-century Pompeiians consumed stews or soups composed of a motley of creatures, aside from a few Apician patinae, this would be an anomaly in ancient Roman cooking. As dolia were primarily used for dry and liquid food storage, and not for cooking, it is possible that the bones and shells found in the dolium represented food waste from an in-house butchery, food preparation that took place behind the counter, or post-consumption food waste left behind by the customers.
It is also possible that these remains were evidence of something else entirely: What if these shells and bones were destined for a master stock that was used in the dishes being served in the establishment? After all, this thermopolium was situated near a fountain and water tower, providing access that would facilitate making a bulk broth on a daily basis. References to such dishes appear across historic texts: In the first century BC, Republican statesman Cicero complains of the “reek and fume” of stew-houses in his biting invective Against Piso, while Athenaeus of Naucratis, a third-century Greco-Egyptian writer, refers to food in the “common messes” as “nothing but broth and chunks of meat.” Second-century historian Dio Cassius even recounts an occasion when Emperor Claudius “abolished the taverns where [the populace] were wont to gather and drink, and commanded that no boiled meat or hot water should be sold.”
Image via Atlas Obscura